It seems like most people either fall into one of two camps when it comes to stress: it either prompts you to eat more than you usually would (science shows that’s about 40% of the population), or it completely takes away your appetite (another 40% fall here; the other 20% don’t change their food intake at all in the face of stress). Add in all the holiday “joy” that’s around right now and it’s not difficult to see that lots of us use food and alcohol to assuage our seasonal stress. And yet, there are ways around it, thank goodness. For the sake of your health and sanity, you owe it to yourself to try and manage your stress in non-food ways.
The Problems with Stress Eating
I’m one of those people who tend to munch more when things get stressful. I’ve realized that it’s partly a way for me to procrastinate or disconnect from the situation; sometimes the amount of stuff on my “to do” list is so daunting that eating “first” seems like a good idea…but deep down I know that I’m just putting off the work/errands etc that really need to be done! (I’ve developed a new tactic for myself that may help you, too—keep reading). And sometimes, when you think back at what (or how much) you ate on a particularly stressful day, it causes you MORE stress because you feel shame or guilt. Those are not feelings that buoy health—in fact, those feelings may induce even more stress eating or drinking. What’s more, research shows that when we stress eat, we aren’t typically choosing salad or roasted veggies, we’re choosing things high in sugar and/or fat—things that are super tasty and comforting to us (think doughnuts, ice cream, macaroni and cheese). Stress does a number on your gut, too, slowing digestion, causing increased acid production, indigestion, nausea and diarrhea, among other things.
Non-food Strategies for Coping with Stress
Clearly, it’s better to deal with holiday stress in ways that don’t involve food and alcohol. Here are some ideas:
- Express yourself: if you’re upset about something, find a tactful, appropriate way to communicate your feelings so that you aren’t “stuffing” them down inside.
- Get some moderate exercise: ideally you would have a pattern of exercise already established, and if that’s the case, don’t abandon it! However, at holiday times sometimes our exercise habits fall by the wayside. Aim to keep some exercise scheduled into your week—perhaps less than typical, but some is better than none. Think of your exercise time as “your” time—and you deserve time to reflect, daydream, or listen to your favorite podcast or music while you exercise.
- Learn some easy stress-releasing measures, such as deep breathing techniques or visualization
- Set aside sufficient time to eat healthy meals: eating super quickly in order to get the next thing crossed off the “to do” list is a recipe for overeating and tummy discomfort later. Give yourself at least 20 minutes for a meal. Try to shut out external stimuli and avoid multi-tasking while eating so that you can be more mindful, more calm and therefore more satisfied with your meal.
- Practice hygge this holiday: not familiar with the Nordic concept of hygge? Think coziness, shared connection and enjoyment in simple, beautiful aspects of life. It’s a wonderful way to live through a cold and dark winter, and there’s no better time than the holidays to start.
- Get plenty of sleep: you’re more productive if you are not sleep-deprived, and sleep provides a wonderful respite for both body and brain. Consider early bedtime as a way to treat yourself well.